VULTURES by Luke Tarzian (Book Review)
‘We are on your doorstep, monster, and we will see your end. The light is darkest just before the dawn, and when we finally meet, it will be my blade that sets fire in your eyes and wipes you from this world.’
Vultures is a self-published debut novel by Luke Tarzian and is the first book in the Shadow Twins series. I was lucky enough to win this book in a giveaway on Twitter, hosted by Justine Bergman, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to read this. I have to start by saying this is one of the most unique books I’ve read in quite some time. In just over 300 pages Tarzian creates a story where the reader enters a surreal and dreamlike world, filled with a myriad of complex characters.
Vultures is a book that is multilayered. There are many plots happening, many timelines represented, and many deceptions that take place. Therefore I cannot go into detail about the plot, as there would inevitably be spoilers. So, here’s the bare bones of the story: Vultures begins with our main protagonist Theailys An, who is on a mission to forge a weapon called The Keeper’s Wrath. This weapon is believed to have the power to enable Theailys to eradicate the demon Te Mirkvahil, who is destroying the land, and put an end to the long-fought war. Now, I know this doesn’t sound terribly unique, but trust me, it is, because throughout the narrative Tarzian delivers to us a world where nothing is as it seems, and finding a balance amid the chaos is the key.
This theme of balance and chaos, or more broadly speaking of light versus shadow, is most effectively represented through the characters. For example, Theailys An has two sides to him. You could say he has a devil and an angel on his shoulder; they are shadows that manifest, they are voices in his head, and they are both rivalling to take control of his body. In fact, often the darker side to him does take over, and he blacks out. Upon awakening he finds himself amid scenes of utter carnage, but has no memory of being the cause of it. Similarly our main female protagonist, Serece, also faces this same dilemma, as she has a violent rage within her, a rage she believes a goddess evokes and controls.
Throughout the story, they both feel ultimate remorse for the people that have been killed by their hands or sacrificed; they cannot forgive themselves, and the path to finding redemption brings them to the brink of insanity. These characters just drip with so much melancholy. I absolutely admire how Tarzian explores the human psyche here, in such a fascinating way. Was is it they who committed these acts? Was it a mental illness? Has a darker malevolent being possessed them? Or is this just history repeating itself? Tarzian throws us quite a few twists in the narrative that constantly keep us guessing at the answers to these puzzles.
‘The poets say that one’s fear grows less with trial, that we become men without fear if we tried enough. I have not found it to be so. Rather, on each occasion we are tested, we become stronger than our fears. It is all we can do. Must do. Lest we perish for our failings.’
Now, this leads me to discuss the world building, and I feel Tarzian really excels here. Not only do we have the power of light, Illum, and the dark power of Murkir, which certain characters can wield, but also in the land of Helveden, where our story is set, there are a multitude of celestial characters, manifested demons such as Lokyn, shapeshifters, Phalantaxians who are afflicted with a plague, and illumurgists who can delve into dreams. All of these work to create a rich, diverse cultural setting that is skilfully woven throughout the story.
In all honesty, during the middle of the book, I did get too confused at times, and a tad frustrated at myself! There is a lot to comprehend; having an abundance of varied characters, all with many layers of manipulations, and also having a timeline that often jumps from past to present and sometimes even into the future too. However, I learnt that all I had to do was trust in Tarzian’s narrative style, because as we begin to reach the climax of the story he sophisticatedly guides the reader towards a semblance of understanding and clarity with many revelations. We do not understand everything, but I soon realised that’s because we are not meant to; we are to feel uncertainty, just as the characters do.
As I’ve stated already, Vultures is very surreal. This is not only because one of the major themes specifically focuses on dreams and their interpretations, but it is also certainly due to the beautiful atmospheric dreamlike prose. Each scene is written like a scene in a play; you can almost imagine the characters as actors upon a stage. So I found towards the end that all I needed to do was sit back and patiently let the act play out until Tarzian delivered the jaw-dropping finale.
To wrap up this review, I think Tarzian has created an impressive, intricate debut which, though slightly challenging, is also immensely pleasing to become immersed into. If you love prose that is dreamlike, fluid, and often poignant, then I suggest giving Vultures a read.